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Vol. XXVII No. 22, March 1-15, 2018

A look at the Presidency in Gujarati

- Karthik Bhatt

From India’s Digital Archives

The book featured in this issue is one of its kind, an overview of the Madras Presidency written in Gujarati.

The Gujaratis were amongst the earliest migrant communities to arrive in the Madras Presidency, their association dating to at least the mid-1500s. Over the course of this period, they have actively contributed to the development of the social, commercial and cultural landscape of the region.

The Malabar Samachar weekly, founded in 1925, was the first Gujarati magazine in the Madras Presidency. It was edited and published by Madhavrai Gigabhai Joshi, a businessman who settled in Cochin after retiring from a successful venture in Rangoon. There is no information either on him or as to the trade he was engaged in. Madhavrai took a keen interest in Gujarati literature and wrote a series of articles suggesting several schemes for its promotion, especially for the benefit of Gujaratis living outside Gujarat. He also wrote to the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad (Gujarati Literary Council) requesting that the schemes be discussed and considered for implementation. However, nothing concrete was to come out of it. But he remained undeterred by the poor response.

One important scheme proposed was to fix a centre annually from among the commercial centres of the country and to commission a work on that region covering in particular its mineral wealth and the consequential potential for growth. Madhavrai took it upon himself to present the first work, Malabar Pradesh-nu Ruparekha (An outline of the Malabar Territory), which came out as the first annual number to the subscribers of the Malabar Samachar.

The suggestion for a similar book on the Madras Presidency was given by B.G. Anjaria of M/s P.D. Asher and Co. of Tiruppur, well-known cloth merchants. Initially not so keen on the proposal, as he wanted to write a second edition of the book on Malabar, Madhavrai writes that he agreed as he saw the need to win the support of the different sections of Gujaratis who had settled in other parts of the Madras Presidency for business purposes. Thus was born Madras Ilakanu Digdarshan.

The book comprises an overview of the Geographical and Trade aspects of the Madras Presidency. The trade section is particularly interesting, given the varied businesses the community had a presence in. In addition to a list of factories, tea and coffee estates, this section contains short sketches of successful Gujarati businessmen of the Presidency. Some well-known names covered in the sketches include that of Gocooladoss Jumnadoss and Co. (cloth merchants, the family behind the creation of the Vallabhacharya Vidya Sabha which manages institutions such as the D. G. Vaishnav College), T. B. Mehta and Sons (diamond merchants), Lalubhai Velchand Desai (one of the earliest Gujarati cycle merchants and after whom a school is named in Bangalore), M/s Surajmals (jewellers) and Khan Bahadur Adam Hajee Mohammad Sait. Also of note is the involvement of the community in charities established and managed by them, such as the Madras Pinjrapole (established 1905) and the South Indian Humanitarian League (1926).

The book, which came out in 1928, was printed in Bhavnagar, at the Gujarati Punch’s printing press. It was clearly intended to be the first in a series, as Madhavrai says that thanks to the large volume of material gathered during his research, he had to restrict the book to the above two aspects. There is, however, no information as to whether subsequent volumes saw the light of the day.

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